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Trump to unveil plan for rolling back Obama-era coal plant regulations

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration next week plans to formally propose a vast overhaul of climate change regulations that would allow individual states to decide how, or even whether, to curb carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants, according to a summary of the plan and details provided by three people who have seen the full proposal.

The plan would also relax pollution rules for power plants that need upgrades. That, combined with allowing states to set their own rules, creates a serious risk that emissions, which had been falling, could start to rise again, according to environmentalists.

The proposal, which President Trump is expected to highlight Tuesday at a rally in West Virginia, amounts to the administration’s strongest and broadest effort yet to address what the president has long described as a regulatory “war on coal.” It would considerably weaken what is known as the Clean Power Plan, Barack Obama’s signature regulation for cutting planet-warming emissions at coal-fired plants.

That rule, crafted as the United States prepared to enter into the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming, was the first federal carbon-pollution restriction for power plants. In 2016, the Supreme Court temporarily blocked the regulation from taking effect while a federal court heard arguments from a coalition of coal states that sued to block the rule. It remains suspended.

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Now, the Trump administration wants to defang the Obama-era rule. The move follows a separate decision this month to freeze Obama-era fuel efficiency standards that were also aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

“These are the two biggest sectors of the economy that contribute to greenhouse gases in the country and are just hugely significant in terms of emissions,” said Janet McCabe, the Environmental Protection Agency air chief under Obama. Together the transportation sector and the power sector account for more than half of the country’s emissions, according to the agency.

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“The science is just getting clearer and clearer every day,” McCabe said. “I don’t know how many times people need to hear that we’re having the warmest summer on record or how many storms people need to see. This is no fooling.”

Officials at the White House and the EPA did not respond to requests for comment.

The plan is the latest move in a string of efforts — including prodding grid operators to purchase more electricity from coal plants and asserting that coal plant retirements are threatening the reliability of the national power grid — to end what Trump has called his predecessor’s war on coal and a sure sign to the industry that the Trump administration still has its back, even as coal production continues to decline.

Michelle Bloodworth, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a trade group that represents coal producers, noted that 40 percent of the nation’s coal plants had either been retired or were scheduled to retire.

She put the blame for that on a mix of market conditions and what she called “very stringent” regulations under Obama. But, she said, efforts like Trump’s push to order grid operators to purchase electricity from struggling coal plants along with the new carbon regulations represent a welcome relief for the industry.

“I certainly think we are supportive of what the administration is doing and we applaud their efforts,” she said.